Donald Trump continues to insist he saw “thousands and thousands of people” in New Jersey cheering the destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 — despite a complete lack of evidence to support his claim.
While defending his call for the surveillance of “certain mosques” over the weekend, Trump said he saw the alleged celebrations with his own eyes.
“I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down,” the Republican frontrunner told the crowd at a raucous rally in Birmingham, Ala., on Saturday. “And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.”
In an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, Trump doubled down.
“There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey where you have large Arab populations,” Trump said. “They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down. I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down — as those buildings came down — and that tells you something. It was well covered at the time, George. Now, I know they don’t like to talk about it, but it was well covered at the time. There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down. Not good.”
While there were images of people in parts the Middle East cheering the attacks, there is no evidence that similar celebrations took place in New Jersey.
“It did happen. I saw it,” Trump insisted. “It was on television.”
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop quickly disputed Trump’s tale.
Either @realDonaldTrump has memory issues or willfully distorts the truth, either of which should be concerning for the Republican Party— Steven Fulop (@StevenFulop)November 22, 2015
“Trump is plain wrong, and he is shamefully politicizing an emotionally charged issue,” Fulop said in a separate statement. “No one in Jersey City cheered on September 11.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was less forceful in disputing his GOP rival.
“I don’t recall that. I don’t,” Christie told reporters while campaigning in New Hampshire. “I do not remember that, and so it’s not something that was part of my recollection. I think if it had happened, I would remember it, but you know, there could be things I forget too.”
The Washington Post published a column extensively fact-checking Trump’s claim, concluding it is “outrageous.”
“This appears to be another case of Trump’s overactive imagination,” the Post’s Glenn Kessler wrote. “Trump has defamed the Muslim communities of New Jersey. He cannot simply assert something so damning; he must provide some real evidence or else issue an apology.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)November 23, 2015
Trump offered a Sept. 18, 2001, Washington Post article about an FBI investigation in New Jersey after 9/11 as evidence of his claim:
In Jersey City, within hours of two jetliners’ plowing into the World Trade Center, law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.
But Serge Kolvaleski, one of the reporters of the 2001 article, said he never found evidence of celebrations.
“I certainly do not remember anyone saying that thousands or even hundreds of people were celebrating,” Kolvaleski told the paper. “That was not the case.“
Ben Carson, who sits in second place behind Trump in the race for the GOP nomination, was asked Monday if he recalled seeing images of people in New Jersey cheering on 9/11.
"I saw the film of it, yes,” the retired neurosurgeon said at a campaign event in Nevada. “There are going to be people who respond inappropriately to virtually everything. I think that was an inappropriate response. I don’t know that on the basis of that we can say all Muslims are bad people. I think that would be a stretch.”
Carson’s campaign, though, quickly clarified his remarks, telling ABC News that he “was thinking of the Middle East, not New Jersey.”